Sunday, December 19, 2004

Europe's War

There are few American writers who understand modern Europe as well as Christopher Caldwell. His reporting on France's Islamist problem is nearly definitive (if you haven't read it, begin here and here).

Now Caldwell has turned his attention to the Netherlands, with similarly penetrating results. His piece, "Holland Daze," is not to be missed.

Caldwell writes:

But with the killing of van Gogh, the Dutch immigration crisis--which, as elsewhere in Europe, is a polite way of saying its Islam crisis--has moved to a higher pitch than in any other country in the West. . . . the Dutch public is being presented with an interpretation of their crisis that other publics in Europe are not. Namely, the view that the problem is not "radicalism" or "marginalization" or "fundamentalism" but Islam--that Islam and democracy don't coexist well."

Evaluating Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the woman who is next on the list of Theo van Gogh's killers, he notes, "she is aware that her outsider status makes her a natural leader for a society that fears it will die if it does not change, but would rather die than be accused of racism, gay-bashing, or Islamophobia."

And what Hirsi Ali is doing is this:

Hirsi Ali appears to many Muslims as the country's premier moral monster, and to many Dutch people as something like Joan of Arc. It is her position on women's issues that is potentially most explosive. Many European countries, notably France, are trying to recast arguments about the wearing of the Muslim headscarf as a matter of women's rights, as if that will somehow mollify fundamentalists by moving the discussion from a religious plane to a political one.

What we have here is an interesting dichotomy: Much of Europe refuses to confront the military threat of radical Islamists. The United States is happy, if not eager, to wage this war.

But you will find no one in America--not a single leader of any note--who is willing to confront the cultural threats of Islamists. Even America's quick-trigger cowboy president refuses to direct anything but kindness towards Islam. To George W. Bush and everyone else in the States, Islam is "peace." Those bad men who praise Allah and cut the heads off of infidels? They don't practice "the real Islam."

Yet Europe is fast awakening to the challenges presented by radical Islam, and seems able to confront it in ways which would make even the most hawkish Americans uncomfortable. Consider this: In the Netherlands--land of gay marriage, euthanasia, and legal pot--Geert Wilders, a politician whose platform is constructed almost exclusively for dealing with the wages of Islam, has a political movement poised to capture almost a fifth of the seats in parliament. In America, Wilders would be dismissed as a xenophobic crank.

Europe will likely continue to harden in this culture war. France and Germany do not have glorious track records when it comes to absorbing the foreign. And while American military might will continue to oppose the military threat of Islamist terrorism, European chauvinism may stiffen to confront the cultural perils of Islamism in ways which would be impossible in the United States.

It is not clear which front in this war is more important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish I had more confidence that Europe's "stiffening" would be of the prudent, discerning kind. It's easy to see how France & Germany could go from appeasing radical Islam within an inch of their lives and then turn cruel and repressive. Fight fascism with fascism, so to speak.

I know the U.S. leaders have avoided criticizing Islam. So far as we can, this seems to me to be the right course to give the benefit of the doubt to at least some practitioners of Islam in the hope that more moderates will either positively influence or excommunicate (so to speak) the radicals in their midst. I understand it may not be possible. I think it's a good idea for intellectuals to be pondering the relationship of Islam to democracy and liberal, secular government and having that discussion out loud.

I'd prefer to 1) prosecute the war overseas; 2) tighten immigration rules to keep out or prosecute the radicals and 3) pursue criminals and terrorists within our borders ruthlessly rather than to single out a religion or religious adherents in any way. Singling out religions can be habit-forming.

(only posting as anonymous because don't have a blogger account)